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Eyewitness Accounts - Grand Duchess Olga - 16th Birthday at Livadia

On November 3, Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaiovna was going to be 16.  In Russian cities, every young girl impatiently awaited this event. It was the time of her first ball, her first coming out to the world… In the Imperial Family, which was governed then by a patriarchal life, they stayed quite true to the ancient customs.  Thus a dinner and gala party was going to take place on that day at the Palace. Invitations were sent out, inscribed thusly:

"Their Imperial Majesties invite to dinner and a dancing party to be held on Thursday November 3rd, at 6:45 in the evening, at the Livadia Palace [here was written the name of the guests]

"Military cavaliers in frock coat with epaulets.", civilians in evening dress with white tie. 1911"

Dinner was served on small tables.  Many candles, silver, flowers.  Around a round table in the center was seated Their Majesties, Grand Dukes Nicholas Nicholaviovitch, Pierre Nicholaiovitch, Alexander Michaelovtich, George Michaelovitch, with their wives, and the Minister of the Court.

The star of the party, Olga Nicholaiovna, in a pink dres at, for the first time, her hair in a chignon, presided over a table. Her escort was N.P. Sabline.  Still a young girl, very naïve, she often asked her escort what she should do.  Next to her sat Tatiana Nicholaiovna with her escort N.N. Rodyanov. Around the rest of her table was seated the Emir of Boukhara, Generals Komorov and Knyagyevitch.  The other tables were occupied by the young Grand Duchesses, the children of Grand Dukes, Christopher Prince of Greece, the maidens of honor, the suite, the ladies of local society, officers of the escort and from the Standard from Their Majesties' regiments, the Crimean regiment, fusiliers and a delegation from the 9th Hussar regiment of Elisabethgrad of which Olga was the chief.

During dinner the Crimean regimental band played music.

After diner, all of the invited guests, other than the Imperial Family, were presented to Their Majesties.  During the presentations, they took down the tables and prepared the room for dancing.

The presentations finished, the Emperor called to him the commandant of the Hussar regiment and announced to him in Olga Nicholaiovna's presence, that he was according to the regiment the permission to carry the white pelisse.  The commandant was filled with joy.

"You certainly may take notice of this authorisation to your regiment" added the Emperor. "I authorise you to use my telegraph."

The commandant was accompanied by a member of the suite immediately to use the telegraph.

However the young chief of the regiment was even more happy than the commandant.  All red in the face, charming in her pink dress, Olga Nicholaiovna literally beamed with joy at the great favor accorded to her regiment.  They congratulated her and kissed her hand.  One of the officers of the Crimean regiment told her:

"At present, Your Imperial Highness, the traditional device of Your regiment received its full sense: to preserve the name of Olga, the white pelisse and the standard.

"This device already existed?" asked Olga, astonished.

The officer responded: "It existed and yet exists."

They began to dance.  This was a succession of waltzes, contre-dances, hungarians, cotillions, mazurskas.  It was announced that the cavaliers could invite the Grand Duchesses to dance without first asking special permission each time. It was the commandant of the Crimean regiment, Knyagyevitch, who called the dances.  He seemed to be particularly in form, the Emperor had said to him, some moments earlier, in the small interior courtyard where he had gone to smoke:

"Your musicians play quite well."

He did not wait an instant to convey this good news to the commandant and the officers.

They danced the cotillion in the old fashioned manner. Pretty badges, jetons and an extraordinary profusion of flowers.

The Empress, who was quite uncomfortable, followed the party, seated in an armchair next to a column.  Next to her was the Tsarevitch in a white sailor's uniform.  He watched everything going on around him with a genuine curiousity.  The Empress told him to go to bed, but he asked permission to stay.  And, then, he did so again.  It required the intervention of the Emperor.  He approached, said several words, and instantly the Tsarevitch, pouting, retired, accompanied by his teachers Gilliard and Petrov.

During the rest of the ball, the Emperor played bridge.  He often got up from the table to cast on eye on the young ones, which amused him.  The gaiety was complete.  The Grand Duchesses floated like butterflies.  The two older ones had the same dresses and both wore their hair in chignons.  The two younger ones also wore the same dresses, with their hair long down their back.  During the cotillion, all of the ladies wore tiaras on their heads, although the Empress had put her own tiaras onto the head of the dancing girls.

Two o'clock rang out, when they finished dancing the final mazurska.  The Empress got up.  Their Majesties went around the room, greeting the guests; the Grand Duchesses extended their hand out to everyone.  The ladies curtseyed deeply and the men bowed profoundly in a most respectful manner, the officers saluted militarily.  Their Majesties and their children retired to their rooms. The ball was over.

They had, that season, many dancing parties at the homes of Grand Dukes Peter Nicholaiovitch, at Dyulber, Alexander Michailovitch, at Ai-Todor, George Michailovitch, at Harax.

On account of the youthfulness at Harax, they always had the most gay and simple parties there of all.

Princess Baryatinskaya gave a ball most particularly interesting at her property at Outch-Tcham.  The Emperor attended with his eldest two girls.  The Empress was absent.  Among the guests were Grand Duchesses Anastasia Nicholaiovna and Militza Nicholaiovna, with their daughters.  As always, it was Knyagyevitch who called the dances.  They gave the cotillion local color.  They arranged an artistic representation of the Fountain of Bahtchisserat.  They gave out Tatar bonnets and flowers.

The Emperor who was playing dominoes, often left at intervals to go to watch the dancers, with whom he exchanged pleasantries.

"This little Tatar bonnet looks quite well on you" he said to the old officer Kovako, who seeemed infinitely flattered.  The party was a genuine success.  The Emperor and his daughters returned at 12:30 AM.

General Alexander Spiridovitch was the Chief of Secret Personal Police in charge of protecting Nicholas II and his immediate family at all times outside of the Imperial Palaces.  He served from 1905 until the outbreak of the First World War in late 1914.

His two volume work "Les Dernieres Annees de la Cour de Tzarskoe Selo", (Payot, Paris, 1929) is an invaluable day to day account of the Imperial Family, and important events around them during those years.

Published originally only in Russian and French, it has been a neglected source until recently.  The following account of the 16th Birthday,"Coming Out" celebration for Grand Duchess Olga Nicholaievna at Livadia in 1911, is my own translation from the French undertaken in 2004.

Rob Moshein


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